A Happy Boy

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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One afternoon later in the summer, as his mother and a girl were raking hay, while Oyvind and his father were carrying it in, there came a little barefooted and bareheaded boy, skipping down the hill-side and across the meadows to Oyvind, and gave him a note.

"You run well, my boy," said Oyvind.

"I am paid for it," answered the boy.

On being asked if he was to have an answer, the reply was No; and the boy took his way home over the cliff, for some one was coming after him up on the road, he said. Oyvind opened the note with some difficulty, for it was folded in a strip, then tied in a knot, then sealed and stamped; and the note ran thus:—

"He is now on the march; but he moves slowly. Run into the woods and hide yourself! THE ONE YOU KNOW."

"I will do no such thing," thought Oyvind; and gazed defiantly up the hills. Nor did he wait long before an old man appeared on the hill-top, paused to rest, walked on a little, rested again. Both Thore and his wife stopped to look. Thore soon smiled, however; his wife, on the other hand, changed color.

"Do you know him?"

"Yes, it is not very easy to make a mistake here."

Father and son again began to carry hay; but the latter took care that they were always together. The old man on the hill slowly drew near, like a heavy western storm. He was very tall and rather corpulent; he was lame and walked with a labored gait, leaning on a staff. Soon he came so near that they could see him distinctly; he paused, removed his cap and wiped away the perspiration with a handkerchief. He was quite bald far back on the head; he had a round, wrinkled face, small, glittering, blinking eyes, bushy eyebrows, and had lost none of his teeth. When he spoke it was in a sharp, shrill voice, that seemed to be hopping over gravel and stones; but it lingered on an "r" here and there with great satisfaction, rolling it over for several yards, and at the same time making a tremendous leap in pitch. He had been known in his younger days as a lively but quick-tempered man; in his old age, through much adversity, he had become irritable and suspicious.

Thore and his son came and went many times before Ole could make his way to them; they both knew that he did not come for any good purpose, therefore it was all the more comical that he never got there. Both had to walk very serious, and talk in a whisper; but as this did not come to an end it became ludicrous. Only half a word that is to the point can kindle laughter under such circumstances, and especially when it is dangerous to laugh. When at last Ole was only a few rods distant, but which seemed never to grow less, Oyvind said, dryly, in a low tone,—

"He must carry a heavy load, that man,"—and more was not required.

"I think you are not very wise," whispered the father, although he was laughing himself.

"Hem, hem!" said Ole, coughing on the hill.

"He is getting his throat ready," whispered Thore.

Oyvind fell on his knees in front of the haycock, buried his head in the hay, and laughed. His father also bowed down.

"Suppose we go into the barn," whispered he, and taking an armful of hay he trotted off. Oyvind picked up a little tuft, rushed after him, bent crooked with laughter, and dropped down as soon as he was inside the barn. His father was a grave man, but if he once got to laughing, there first began within him a low chuckling, with an occasional ha-ha-ha, gradually growing longer and longer, until all blended in a single loud peal, after which came wave after wave with a longer gasp between each. Now he was under way. The son lay on the floor, the father stood beside him, both laughing with all their might. Occasionally they had such fits of laughter.

"But this is inconvenient," said the father.

Finally they were at a loss to know how this would end, for the old man must surely have reached the gard.

"I will not go out," said the father; "I have no business with him."

"Well, then, I will not go out either," replied Oyvind.

"Hem, hem!" was heard just outside of the barn wall.

The father held up a threatening finger to his boy.

"Come, out with you!"

"Yes; you go first!"

"No, you be off at once."

"Well, go you first."

And they brushed the dust off each other, and advanced very seriously. When they came below the barn-bridge they saw Ole standing with his face towards the kitchen door, as if he were reflecting. He held his cap in the same hand as his staff, and with his handkerchief was wiping the sweat from his bald head, at the same time pulling at the bushy tufts behind his ears and about his neck until they stuck out like spikes. Oyvind hung behind his father, so the latter was obliged to stand still, and in order to put an end to this he said with excessive gravity,—

"Is the old gentleman out for a walk?"

Ole turned, looked sharply at him, and put on his cap before he replied,—

"Yes, so it seems."

"Perhaps you are tired; will you not walk in?"

"Oh! I can rest very well here; my errand will not take long."

Some one set the kitchen door ajar and looked out; between it and Thore stood old Ole, with his cap-visor down over his eyes, for the cap was too large now that he had lost his hair. In order to be able to see he threw his head pretty far back; he held his staff in his right hand, while the left was firmly pressed against his side when he was not gesticulating; and this he never did more vigorously than by stretching the hand half way out and holding it passive a moment, as a guard for his dignity.

"Is that your son who is standing behind you?" he began, abruptly.

"So they say."

"Oyvind is his name, is it not?"

"Yes; they call him Oyvind."

"He has been at one of those agricultural schools down south, I believe?"

"There was something of the kind; yes."

"Well, my girl—she—my granddaughter—Marit, you know—she has gone mad of late."

"That is too bad."

"She refuses to marry."

"Well, really?"

"She will not have any of the gard boys who offer themselves."

"Ah, indeed."

"But people say he is to blame; he who is standing there."

"Is that so?"

"He is said to have turned her head—yes; he there, your son Oyvind."

"The deuce he has!"

"See you, I do not like to have any one take my horses when I let them loose on the mountains, neither do I choose to have any one take my daughters when I allow them to go to a dance. I will not have it."

"No, of course not."

"I cannot go with them; I am old, I cannot be forever on the lookout."

"No, no! no, no!"

"Yes, you see, I will have order and propriety; there the block must stand, and there the axe must lie, and there the knife, and there they must sweep, and there throw rubbish out,—not outside the door, but yonder in the corner, just there—yes; and nowhere else. So, when I say to her: 'not this one but that one!' I expect it to be that one, and not this one!"


"But it is not so. For three years she has persisted in thwarting me, and for three years we have not been happy together. This is bad; and if he is at the bottom of it, I will tell him so that you may hear it, you, his father, that it will not do him any good. He may as well give it up."

"Yes, yes."

Ole looked a moment at Thore, then he said,—

"Your answers are short."

"A sausage is no longer."

Here Oyvind had to laugh, although he was in no mood to do so. But with daring persons fear always borders on laughter, and now it inclined to the latter.

"What are you laughing at?" asked Ole, shortly and sharply.


"Are you laughing at me?"

"The Lord forbid!" but his own answer increased his desire to laugh.

Ole saw this, and grew absolutely furious. Both Thore and Oyvind tried to make amends with serious faces and entreaties to walk in; but it was the pent-up wrath of three years that was now seeking vent, and there was no checking it.

"You need not think you can make a fool of me," he began; "I am on a lawful errand: I am protecting my grandchild's happiness, as I understand it, and puppy laughter shall not hinder me. One does not bring up girls to toss them down into the first houseman's place that opens its doors, and one does not manage an estate for forty years only to hand the whole over to the first one who makes a fool of the girl. My daughter made herself ridiculous until she was allowed to marry a vagabond. He drank them both into the grave, and I had to take the child and pay for the fun; but, by my troth! it shall not be the same with my granddaughter, and now you know that! I tell you, as sure as my name is Ole Nordistuen of the Heidegards, the priest shall sooner publish the bans of the hulder-folks up in the Nordal forest than give out such names from the pulpit as Marit's and yours, you Christmas clown! Do you think you are going to drive respectable suitors away from the gard, forsooth? Well; you just try to come there, and you shall have such a journey down the hills that your shoes will come after you like smoke. You snickering fox! I suppose you have a notion that I do not know what you are thinking of, both you and she. Yes, you think that old Ole Nordistuen will turn his nose to the skies yonder, in the churchyard, and then you will trip forward to the altar. No; I have lived now sixty-six years, and I will prove to you, boy, that I shall live until you waste away over it, both of you! I can tell you this, too, that you may cling to the house like new-fallen snow, yet not so much as see the soles of her feet; for I mean to send her from the parish. I am going to send her where she will be safe; so you may flutter about here like a chattering jay all you please, and marry the rain and the north wind. This is all I have to say to you; but now you, who are his father, know my sentiments, and if you desire the welfare of him whom this concerns, you had better advise him to lead the stream where it can find its course; across my possessions it is forbidden."

He turned away with short, hasty steps, lifting his right foot rather higher than the left, and grumbling to himself.

Those left behind were completely sobered; a foreboding of evil had become blended with their jesting and laughter, and the house seemed, for a while, as empty as after a great fright. The mother who, from the kitchen door had heard everything, anxiously sought Oyvind's eyes, scarcely able to keep back her tears, but she would not make it harder for him by saying a single word. After they had all silently entered the house, the father sat down by the window, and gazed out after Ole, with much earnestness in his face; Oyvind's eyes hung on the slightest change of countenance; for on his father's first words almost depended the future of the two young people. If Thore united his refusal with Ole's, it could scarcely be overcome. Oyvind's thoughts flew, terrified, from obstacle to obstacle; for a time he saw only poverty, opposition, misunderstanding, and a sense of wounded honor, and every prop he tried to grasp seemed to glide away from him. It increased his uneasiness that his mother was standing with her hand on the latch of the kitchen-door, uncertain whether she had the courage to remain inside and await the issue, and that she at last lost heart entirely and stole out. Oyvind gazed fixedly at his father, who never took his eyes from the window; the son did not dare speak, for the other must have time to think the matter over fully. But at the same moment his soul had fully run its course of anxiety, and regained its poise once more. "No one but God can part us in the end," he thought to himself, as he looked at his father's wrinkled brow. Soon after this something occurred. Thore drew a long sigh, rose, glanced round the room, and met his son's gaze. He paused, and looked long at him.

"It was my will that you should give her up, for one should hesitate about succeeding through entreaties or threats. But if you are determined not to give her up, you may let me know when the opportunity comes, and perhaps I can help you."

He started off to his work, and the son followed.

But that evening Oyvind had his plan formed: he would endeavor to become agriculturist for the district, and ask the inspector and the school-master to aid him. "If she only remains firm, with God's help, I shall win her through my work."

He waited in vain for Marit that evening, but as he walked about he sang his favorite song:—

"Hold thy head up, thou eager boy!
Time a hope or two may destroy,
Soon in thy eye though is beaming,
Light that above thee is beaming!

"Hold thy head up, and gaze about!
Something thou'lt find that "Come!" does shout;
Thousands of tongues it has bringing
Tidings of peace with their singing.

"Hold thy head up; within thee, too,
Rises a mighty vault of blue,
Wherein are harp tones sounding,
Swinging, exulting, rebounding.

"Hold thy head up, and loudly sing!
Keep not back what would sprout in spring;
Powers fermenting, glowing,
Must find a time for growing.

"Hold thy head up; baptism take,
From the hope that on high does break,
Arches of light o'er us throwing,
And in each life-spark glowing."[1]

[Footnote 1: Auber Forestier's translation.]

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